I delivered my son without drugs or scalpels, but his birth wasn’t exactly natural.
Hospital births never are.
My birth experience was largely positive, but far from perfect. I wish I’d known what to expect — not from my body, but from the hospital staff. Labor itself was easy, but so much of my experience left me feeling violated and traumatized.
If I had known more about what to expect, I might have had a better experience.
The Birth of my Son
I was about 41 weeks pregnant when I went into labor. My contractions started in the evening and were a steady two minutes apart most of the night. I didn’t really sleep, but I rested. Between waves, I snacked and sipped water.
As the contractions got more intense, I spent a lot of time singing in the shower. Out of the shower, I listened to I Am Woman on repeat.
Oh yes, I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong
I am invincible
I am woman
After hours of steady contractions, we got in the car at dawn. Laboring in a car is painful, and my contractions slowed way down.
By the time we checked in, my labor had stalled completely.
A nurse examined me — the first vaginal exam I had ever allowed — and I was only three centimeters dilated, so they sent me home again. I labored at home for most of the day. By the time we drove back to the hospital, I was at seven centimeters. I cried with relief.
My platelet count was a little low, so they wanted to place a heplock in my arm. I was exhausted, so I allowed it. Having a length of plastic beneath my skin was awful. I felt ill.
I sobbed and begged the nurse to remove it. Finally she went for the doctor, who okayed it.
With no foreign object under my skin, labor was easy again. (Save the times they coerced me to lie still for the fetal heartrate monitor.) Sitting in a warm bath, my contractions were so mild that I was able to eat a light meal just before transition.
I labored on my knees, upright, holding onto the bed. I wouldn’t describe birth as painful, but it was certainly the most intense experience of my life. The nurse I’d fought over the heplock was actually a very solid and reassuring presence during labor, and she helped me remember to keep my voice low whenever it started to get high and panicky.
I delivered my nine-and-a-half-pound son 24 hours after my labor began.
I was enthralled by the brand new human in my arms… and surrounded by strangers.
I don’t remember how long they “delayed” cord clamping, but I’m sure Rye didn’t get all of his blood back. I didn’t have the presence of mind to tell them to wait.
The doctor ripped my placenta out by the cord.
It’s called expectant management, when “controlled traction” is applied to the umbilical cord instead of allowing the mother to naturally deliver the placenta. It’s unnecessary, traumatizing, and fucking painful.
Luckily I had this face to distract me:
…and while I was distracted, I was assaulted again. A woman I’d never seen before grabbed my breast, took my infant’s head, and shoved my nipple in his mouth.
5 Things I Wish I’d Done
I hope I never step foot in a hospital again. But if I do, here are five things I’ll do differently:
Hire a Doula
A laboring woman should be able to turn her attention inward.
A doula can help with that.
A midwife felt out of reach financially (though I know now that some will accept small payments for years to make sure any woman can have the birth she wants). Knowing that many mothers pay a midwife thousands of dollars only to end up in the hospital anyway made it that much more difficult to justify the expense.
But we could have afforded a doula.
I didn’t think I needed a doula. And I didn’t, not for labor. That was the easy part.
I needed a doula to protect me from the hospital staff. A good doula would have helped me have a better experience by interceding on my behalf.
I almost put Stand Up for Myself at the top of this list… but honestly, that’s not something a laboring mother should have to do.
I feel frustrated that I didn’t say no to the hep lock to begin with, that I didn’t deny the needless monitoring and stressful cervical checks. I hate that I wasn’t aware enough to demand space for my son and I, but that shouldn’t fall on the new parents either. A good doula would have helped to create a bubble where I was safe to focus on nothing but my baby.
Decline Unnecessary Procedures
Whether or not I have a doula next time, I’ll feel more comfortable declining procedures I don’t want.
The free clinic was exhausting. Everything felt like a fight. I refused vaccines and opted to monitor my blood sugar at home instead of doing the glucose drink.
Eventually I wore down. I suffered through too many blood draws. After refusing for a few visits, I eventually got the rhogam shot. I allowed my ultrasound to go far longer than I was comfortable with.
At the hospital, I allowed cervical checks because I was desperate to get checked in, to soak in a tub instead of taking another agonizing car ride. I allowed a nurse to put a plastic tube under my skin (and then tearfully begged her to take it out) because I was too exhausted to fight. I tried to hold still for fetal monitoring for the same reason.
I needed my energy for birth, damn it!
I won’t allow any of that next time. I’ll have a detailed birth plan to hand the nurses. My partner will be prepared to create space for me, and I’ll be ready to stand up for myself if I have to.
Delay Cord Clamping
I had requested delayed cord clamping, but the hospital staff’s idea of a delay was only a minute or two.
The cord should not be clamped until it stops pulsing and goes white. In addition to allowing the baby to get up to 40% of its blood back, this allows for an easier natural birth of the placenta.
Next time, I’ll make sure my baby gets all of the cord blood and the full complement of stem cells. Which will mean that I’ll feel that much more comfortable saying…
No Vitamin K Shot
I knew better than to allow my newborn to be vaccinated against an STD, but I wasn’t sure about the vitamin K shot. In the end, I allowed it. I’ll decline the K next time in favor of maternal supplementation and delayed cord clamping.
Create a Mama-Baby Bubble
A doula would have helped with this, but a partner or friend could work too. I thought I’d be able to do it myself, but I was high on birth and entralled by my newborn. It was too much to expect of myself (or even of my husband).
I’d had the same nurse checking in as I labored, giving me my space. But once I began to push, the room filled with strangers.
When I took my son into my arms for the first time, I was surrounded by unfamiliar faces. Not at a respectful distance, either, but bedside. Next time, my newborn and I will have space.
Own Your Birth
It’s your body.
It is your body.
It’s your body. It’s your baby. It’s your choice.
You are capable of making informed decisions.
You don’t need a doctor’s permission to refuse a test. You can tell the nurses not to touch you. You should absolutely do your own research before allowing prophylactic injections.
It’s your body. It’s your birth. Own it.